“Hi,” the girl said. “You’re awake now.”
Garry glared at her, groggy from his nap, and still aching. His stuffy brain wanted him to say “buzz off, kid,” but his mouth opened and he said, “Hi.” He didn’t know what else to say to such a small person. He hadn’t had a lot of practice with them. Allen used to talk about his large family and the new generation of nieces and nephews, but Garry admitted in his deepest, most honest heart, that he usually tuned all that information out.
“You want one?” She held out something that looked sticky and totally unappealing, vibrantly pink and green and in the shape of a heart. New sprinkles of sugar whispered off it on to their knees.
Garry pursed his lips. He had an irresistible, immediate urge to brush off the white crystals as if they’d rot like poison through his jeans. “No thanks. I already ate.”
He stared at her. Who did she think she was, his mother? “When I got here.”
“You’ll need more than that,” she said bluntly. “The Delay is twelve hours now.” Her tone dignified it with capital letters, like it was some kind of alien monster, some Harbinger of Armageddon, some Premonition of Global Doom.
Now she had him doing it, even in his private thoughts. For a second, he thought he might still be asleep and dreaming he was in a late night version of The Twilight Zone. But his back and his toes still hurt…so it looked like he was awake. Mournfully so.
“You should be with your parents,” he said, just as bluntly.
But she didn’t seem disturbed by him. She put a red and yellow heart into her mouth and wiped her sticky fingers down her T-shirt. It proved that at least the red stain wasn’t blood. Garry wondered at what point he’d even considered that might be the case.
“You’re grumpy,” she said. “Just like Mum.”
“Huh?” One thing Garry did know about kids was that if you encouraged them, they stuck like glue. Or like particularly revolting sweets. All he had to do was stifle any conversation, and then in a minute, she’d get bored of him and wander off again.
“I’ll stay here for a while,” she said, patting her lap with determination. A sparkling cloud of sugar floated a few inches off the fabric, then settled back down again. Garry thought some of it might have got stuck up his nose—every time he moved he could smell the cloying sweetness anew. “Mum and Dad aren’t smiling. My uncle sent me to get some sweets.”
Garry looked around, a little warily. Surely there’d be a couple seated somewhere close, watching their child fondly. Or there’d be a couple walking over to her, calling her back to join them. Or there’d be a couple running back and forth through the airport lounge, weeping and screaming for their lost or kidnapped child, followed by armed police.
He couldn’t see anyone taking any notice of them at all.
“So where are they, your parents? They’ll be worrying about you. Won’t they?”
She shrugged. A small bubble of orange popped at the side of her petite little mouth, and she giggled softly. “Unc said I should get sweets and Dad didn’t say no because he was all red in the face. Mum said I was to go off and skip.”
Garry stared at the blonde head and re-examined the carefully pronounced words. Go off and skip? None of it made sense. Was it some new street-speak? Was it meant to make sense?
Then another small but equally clear voice broke in. “What she means is, Mum told her to take a running jump. They were arguing about The Delay. Dad gets very tense with Delays.”
Garry’s head whipped around to find the speaker on the seat the other side of him. He stared into clear air, then dropped his gaze down a foot or so. It was another small person; a boy this time.
“Best we keep out of the way for a while,” the boy said, very solemnly. He was just like the girl, though he looked a little older. Same blond hair, same blue eyes. A lot less mess on his face, but in place of it his mouth was twisted into a very sour look. He sat rather primly on the seat, dressed in smart jeans and denim shirt, his feet swinging slightly above the floor. A Gameboy was on his lap, his fingers still hovering over it, as if he’d only just paused play.
“So?” asked Garry. Your point is? His head was starting to hurt.
The boy frowned at him. “Well, obviously we’ll stay here for a while until they calm down. They’re always like this when we fly.” He glared over Garry’s lap at the girl. “She should know that.”
“Mum has men strudel,” the girl said, oblivious to the boy’s interruption. Another sweet vanished into her surprisingly capacious mouth.
Garry’s imagination toyed with visions of a rather exotic cannibalistic dish.
“She means menstrual. Mum gets like this every month. My sister doesn’t understand.” The boy rolled his eyes and spoke very gravely. “She’s only seven. She gets her words wrong all the time.”
Garry looked from one to the other and felt his own eyes roll. Fuck, he thought, though he didn’t dare say it aloud. They were like a pair of matching bookends.
Where was the sign on these empty seats that said, “Lunatics, sit here?”